Theory of how the roads in Great Bowden may have developed.

This is a personal view of how our roads may have developed and we would welcome other views that people may have and especially welcome historic knowledge that would further our understanding of the place in which we live.

Bowden Ridge is an obstacle to transport between Great Bowden and Market Harborough. At its Eastern end, it is possible to traverse the lower slope of the ridge as it falls toward the flood plane of the River Welland. At the Western end, there is no alternative to going over the brow of the hill.

The two main roads leading south from Great Bowden are Station Road and Burnmill Road. Both of these roads rise steadily to the top of Bowden Ridge and then fall towards Little Bowden in the case of Station Road and Market Harborough in the case of Burnmill Road.

These roads are shown on maps of the 19th century and a copy of a survey’s map held at the Records Office in Leicester shows the development of the railway did not change the route of Station Road. These two main roads are not an obvious line of travel for roads of this age when most people walked and either carried their wares or pushed them in hand carts. Climbing steep hills requires strenuous personal effort and before the days of powered transport would probably only have been done out of necessity or for a reason.

If we follow Station Road from the Forge at Pond Green in Great Bowden, it rises gradually and bends to the left just after Countryman Mews, before turning right and climbing steeply to the top of Bowden Ridge. If it did not turn to the right, it would continue through what is now Berry Close and Bankfield Drive and traverse the lower slope of Bowden Ridge and meet Rockingham Road close to where it does today. The length of this second route is the same as that of the present road and the route would be relatively level. If we assume that most roads developed from tracks that were convenient for people to use, it is fair to ask why Station Road should turn to the right and climb the steepest part of Bowden Ridge and then fall towards St Mary in Arden and Little Bowden.

Records show there was a windmill sited at the top of Bowden Ridge near to the road and therefore it is possible that Station Road, as it is known today, was a track from the village to the mill and Great Bowden Road a mill track from St Mary in Arden, which may have had its own community in the past. Over time, these two routes may have become a convenient pathway between Great Bowden and St Mary in Arden, around which field and property boundaries developed and set the line of the future road.

There is still the question of why did a more convenient route between Great Bowden and Little Bowden did not develop, following approximately the line of the railway and avoiding the hill. The oldest map we have (1885 OS map) shows the easiest existing route would have been along Dingley Road. The footpath that runs southwards alongside the railway lines from the railway bridge on Station Road to the industrial site at Rockingham Road should be a strong candidate for this route because it would have been much shorter. However, it is not shown on the copy of the railway survey’s map and therefore we have to assume it is a relatively new pathway.

Burnmill Road may have developed in a similar way to Station Road although there are reasons why this may not be. Again there is evidence that a mill was sited near to the top of the hill on the northern side and the road may have developed from mill tracks carrying grain from the fields in the North and from the South taking flour to Market Harborough. However, Burnmill Road is also a direct route from Upper Green to Market Harborough. Although it is a steep road that passes over the middle of Bowden Ridge, there is no simple lower level alternative pathway that could have developed in its place. Therefore it can argued that Burnmill Road may have developed as a direct thoroughfare to Market Harborough from a difficult but convenient track and the mill was sited next to the track because the track provided easy access to the mill.

The falling gradient of the road from Leicester Lane is the southern side of a very shallow 5 m high ridge that runs from west to east through the village. Main Street and part of Leicester Lane run along the top of this ridge and may have developed from a track that followed the higher and dryer ground.

The alternative track from the Western end of Great Bowden to Market Harborough is along Leicester Lane and Leicester Road to the High Street. This is a much longer route (2½ miles) but the gradient of the hill is considerably less than the direct route along Burnmill Road. Leicester Lane climbs gradually from Great Bowden to the junction with Leicester Road. This is the highest point of the route and is 7 metres lower than the highest point of the alternative route of Burnmill Road.

A note on the gradients shown on the graphics.

The graphics are Excel graphs and the scale of the vertical heights is much larger that of the distance. Consequently, the gradients of the hills are exaggerated and Bowden Ridge is not as mountainous as it is shown. The graphics show where the gradients are and how the gradients change along the route. They also show the maximum rise in metres over the length of the road. The true gradients can only be realised by those who know the roads.

The heights shown are not spot heights. The heights have been taken from the Google Earth images of Great Bowden. Google Earth averages heights over a given distance, on-line Blogs suggesting between 30 and 90 metres. For these shallow gradients, this level of accuracy is better than the 50 metre contour limit of the Ordinance Survey maps. 


Comments Received: 

10th May 2016   Can I add yet another angle to your argument about the importance of Burnmill Road as a major route for wheeled traffic between Great Bowden and Market Harborough. Between 1726 and 1752 the major roads through Market Harborough were all turnpiked and a toll-gate was installed to levy charges at the junction of Leicester Lane and the Leicester Harborough turnpike on the south side of Leicester Lane, effectively blocking free passage along that road into Harborough. A toll-gate was also built on St Mary's Road where the Kettering turnpike branched off to cross the River Welland through Little Bowden so there was no free passage into Harborough from Great Bowden using what is now Station Road and St Mary's Road. Therefore until the roads were disturnpiked (circa 1870) you had to pay tolls to carry goods between the two communities unless you travelled via Burnmill Road.  

Apropos of the unlikely alignment of Station Road I think a lot of the reason for it may be down to avoiding boggy ground. Bucwellmore is a field name in the South Field and I have always thought it must refer to the ground lying below Buccwell which was probably permanently boggy. Also, as you observed recently, the land between the village and the River Welland is liable to flooding. There is a similar intriguing kink in Leicester Lane, just past Bowden Hall, where the road deviates to the north of a direct alignment. I think this was in order to take advantage of the slightly higher ground referred to as Onhow (or Honhow) in the North Field and so avoid the boggy land which lies between Bowden Ridge and Gallow Hill and which Gunnesbrook traverses at the eastern end. BMT